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Mata rolls back years to help steer United into quarter-finals

Brighton 0 Manchester United 3

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Juan Mata celebrates after scoring his sides second goal. Photo: Matt Dunham - Pool/Getty Images

Juan Mata celebrates after scoring his sides second goal. Photo: Matt Dunham - Pool/Getty Images

Getty Images

Juan Mata celebrates after scoring his sides second goal. Photo: Matt Dunham - Pool/Getty Images

Remember Juan Mata? Sometimes it feels like the Spaniard, who was Manchester United's first marquee signing after Alex Ferguson's retirement, has become something of a forgotten figure but he provided a goal and an assist to help earn a place in the quarter-finals of the League Cup.

Maybe this cup competition is the 32-year-old's domain now, maybe he might even exit United before this transfer window closes but he made the difference as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side made heavy weather - in the driving rain - of Brighton. Not just with his skill but with his attitude.

Mata's goal was his 50th for United - in six years - and while he may not represent the club's future now then certainly goalkeeper Dean Henderson does. Just before Mata doubled United's advantage the 23-year-old produced a stunning save to deny substitute Leandro Trossard who held his head in disbelief - just as he did in striking the goal-frame in the Premier League fixture between the teams on Saturday.

If it was a good evening for Mata and Henderson and also - when in possession - Donny van de Beek it was a less convincing game for Daniel James and Odion Ighalo, showing again why Solskjaer is demanding another forward player in the coming days.

United went in front just before half-time with a goal that will have infuriated Brighton head coach Graham Potter. Until then his side had edged it but conceded a free-kick when Dan Burn brought down Mata in one of the biggest height mis-matches in football (the defender is almost a foot taller). Mata took it and flighted the ball in from the right with Scott McTominay allowed to step forward and simply steer a header past goalkeeper Jason Steele.

Marking

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Manchester United's Victor Lindelof (left) battles with Brighton and Hove Albion's Lewis Dunk (centre) and Bernado. Photo: Matt Dunham/NMC Pool/PA Wire

Manchester United's Victor Lindelof (left) battles with Brighton and Hove Albion's Lewis Dunk (centre) and Bernado. Photo: Matt Dunham/NMC Pool/PA Wire

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Manchester United's Victor Lindelof (left) battles with Brighton and Hove Albion's Lewis Dunk (centre) and Bernado. Photo: Matt Dunham/NMC Pool/PA Wire

The marking was poor - Eric Bailly would have headed home had McTominay not beaten him to it - and maybe Steele should have come and collected it. Either way, Potter appeared furious as he chewed at a pen before striding down the tunnel as the half-time whistle went.

Before that, United had created just one opportunity, albeit a good one as they worked their way down the left in a move built by Mata who combined with Brandon Williams before pulling the ball back to Ighalo. The striker rounded Steele only to slam his shot into the side-netting from a tight angle.

The move was the highlight of the opening exchanges which were summed up when Bailly over-hit a pass to Fred which bounced off his knee, then rebounded off Alireza Jahanbakhsh 10 yards away and bounced out for a throw-in.

Lots of changes had been made from the weekend meeting between the two sides in the Premier League - there were nine from Brighton and 10 from United - with both managers imploring their players to quick the pace in the steady, unrelenting rain.

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Manchester United's Scott McTominay scores his side's first goal of the game. Photo: Matt Dunham/NMC Pool/PA Wire

Manchester United's Scott McTominay scores his side's first goal of the game. Photo: Matt Dunham/NMC Pool/PA Wire

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Manchester United's Scott McTominay scores his side's first goal of the game. Photo: Matt Dunham/NMC Pool/PA Wire

Brighton threatened when the impressive 21-year-old Irish midfielder Jayson Molumby picked out Jahanbakhsh, with Williams caught up-field, only for the forward to strike another shot over the bar as he opted for power.

Soon after United went ahead Brighton certainly appeared to react as Bernardo burst past Dalot and was set to shoot only for Bailly to stop up with a full-blooded challenge.

A fraction mis-timed and it would have been a penalty while Potter turned to Neal Maupay as Jahanbakhsh limped off injured.

Mata doubled United's advantage with the finest move of the game, a sweeping passing sequence with van de Beek flicking the ball intelligently into the midfielder's path.

Substitute Paul Pogba extended the lead with a free-kick that took a heavy deflection off Joel Veltman, wrong-footing Steele. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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